Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Borders is Gone - How Will We Adapt?

Borders Inc. is closing all remaining Borders and Waldenbooks by September 30th. They had hoped for a buyout that would keep some of the stores open, but it fell through, and now they are liquidating all stores. I wanted to share some details and my thoughts on how this will affect authors and writers and how we can adapt.

While it’s tragic we’re losing 399 bookstores, it’s the 10,700 employees losing their jobs that tears at my heart. I know so many of those employees through my book signings. I called several on Tuesday, getting their email addresses so I can stay in touch.

Borders Inc. has been in trouble for years. I wish Waldenbooks had never merged with them, as those stores were my favorite to visit. The former Borders CEO ran another company into the ground - not sure why anyone expected different results here! Borders was so focused on competing with Barnes and Noble. They closed many profitable Waldenbooks just to support their big stores. Just over seven years ago, there were 700 Waldenbooks. By September 30th, the remaining 100 will also be gone.

Mismanagement wasn’t the only problem though. There’s the recession. More people are shopping online. Print sales dropped 25% in the past six months while EBook sales soared. Twelve percent of all Americans own an EReader. (And considering just over half of all Americans purchased at least one book last year, 12% is a huge number.)

What does all of this mean for authors? There’s bad news and good news.

Less shelf space is obvious. But there’s another issue - liquidation. Borders will slash prices to move merchandise, but 50-75% of it will be returned. Now, the average for hardbacks is 31% returns. (Scary, huh?) Just think what will happen when that number doubles. Authors can expect a big dip in royalties when this happens. Publishers will also feel the squeeze - and many will also take a big hit from the millions they’ll never recoup from Borders’ outstanding debt.

One article stated that this means less new authors will be discovered because of fewer employees recommending books to customers. Two thoughts on this-
First, the big publishers pay for those recommendations. (I remember Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters came out during one of my book tours - employees had to promote the title and they all HATED the book. Ironic, huh?)
Second, how do most people find new authors nowadays? Online and by word of mouth. No bookstore employee needed.

Here’s the good news for authors with small presses and self-pubbished authors - the Internet is a more level playing field. Bookstores have always been owned by the Big Six. They pay top dollar to have their books placed up front. And while they still do that to some extent online, there is more opportunity for smaller books to gain the reader’s attention. Small publishers also have niche markets outside of the bookstore that the big publishers overlook.

If you’re a small publisher author or one who’s self-published, now is your window of opportunity! The Internet is yours. EBooks are booming. There are thousands of retail outlets besides bookstores who carry books. Businesses and organizations buy specialty books. So many options! But you must move quickly - the big publishers are slow but they’re not stupid. They will still try to dominate. (Did you know Amazon once had a special where for $1000 your book would appear prominently next to the big publishers’ books on the main pages? The Big Boys protested and the program stopped. Doesn’t that make you mad?)

Now, what are your thoughts?

And I’d like to thank the wonderful employees of Waldenbooks and Borders for all the years I was able to invade their stores. I will never forget you!!



  1. AnonymousJuly 20, 2011

    This tears at my heart, as well.

    I'm saddened over all the people who are forced out of work. Especially those who have given years of service, only to see it erased in the blink of an eye.

    This e-book thing still troubles me. (And I own one, so go figure.)
    I will miss those afternoons, those lazy afternoons, when I could browse the shelves, looking for my next friend, my next adventure. And to have a worker recommend a book based on my personal preferences? Priceless.

    I'd rather look in someone's eyes and see the gleam as they explain their delight over a certain book.

    Sigh. I'm a dinosaur, I guess. A sentimental dinosaur.

  2. I'm sad at people losing their jobs, the effect on authors, more retail space sitting empty (which then affects neighbouring stores), and so on.

    But I'm seriously selfishly sad; Borders has been my favourite for ages. I've done my moping and crying for the past 24 hours; guess it's time to gear up for sales. :/

  3. Since I've gone through the same experience, I feel sorry for anyone who has lost their job.

    As for Borders, I never cared for their return policy. Before I could get a booksigning at Waldenbooks, which was part of Borders, I had to accept returns on my self-published book. That meant since all the books were not sold at the signing, they were returned within a few months and I had to pay back Waldenbooks for what they paid, plus the $2 to get the books back.

    That said, the employees were very nice and I had a great time at the booksigning and did sell many books. Still, the returns ate away at my profits.

    I hate the archaic return system, and will never allow it on any future books.

    Morgan Mandel

  4. We lost our Waldenbooks a few years ago. Now Barnes and Noble is all that remains. I'm one of those eReader people, so I can see the switch coming very fast.

  5. What we are seeing is the yin to the yang, the ping to the pong, the pendulum swinging down after it swung up.

    It isn't so much that Borders is collapsing -- it's that corporations are collapsing.

    They are too top-heavy, too weighted, too off-balance. We're seeing the same top-heavy off-balance toddle from the US economy, which will collapse like Borders no later than 2015, leaving a wake of unemployed and distraught Americans in far greater number than 10,000.

    That sounds pessimistic, but it isn't!

    It's a victory.

    See, from the ashes of Borders will rise small presses, and indies, and self-pubbers. We have killed the corporate giant and managed one long breath through the garrote of large corporations and $200,000,000 executive bonuses.

    Likewise, from the ashes of America will rise the same small businessman, businesswoman, businessperson, dancing on the graves of the fallen.

    While tragic that these 10,000 people will be unemployed, it is an opportunity, not a loss. We'll grow, and as with all things you grow from the bottom up, not the top down.

    - Eric

  6. I don't want bookstores to close...but I have to admit I'm guilty of not going into them that often. ESPECIALLY not in my country, where books are ridiculously expensive.

    I use Book Depository.

  7. I am sad about Borders closing because they supported small press and local authors. B & N does not. Great post! You bring up so many excellent points, and you are so right about now being the time to move!

  8. I am saddened for employees who lose their jobs due to poor management.

    While I have always been more partial to Barnes & Noble myself, I do miss the days of independent bookstores and when chains were still a relatively small group. Sigh.

    Excellent post, Diane.

  9. AnonymousJuly 21, 2011

    I'll miss Borders because of all the book signings I had there. Great staff and terrific customers! And now we know what happened to Ginny Weasly. Just kidding.

  10. That's so sad. :-( I just hope that this is the start of a better time for us all.

  11. I'm hoping that in some places indies will rise to fill in the gap, because I honestly do not think E-Readers ultimately provide the same kind of experience as paper books. I think E-readers have their place, for sure, and I'm hoping that they don't just cannibalize the print market but expand the market for all books.

    I'm not naive enough to think that everywhere a Borders closed, an indie will emerge to take its place, but I hope that in at least some locations, new indies open up and fulfill that community and hand-selling function that only a brick and mortar store can provide.

    I think to some extent brick and mortar stores will become displays and advertising for books, and that more volume will be sold online at Amazon. But the curatorial role of indies is invaluable. I just think that most will have to supplement their income from ancillary functions like selling coffee, gifts, what have you.

  12. This is very sad, but as you say so brilliantly, the internet is a wonderful opportunity for new and self-published authors. You are so right, it's the employees who are hit the hardest. Jobs are not easy to come by these days. Sigh!

  13. Although that bookshop is not here, it is very said to see it close. I loved the pics quite cheered me up.
    Have a good day.

  14. Bryce, we can still get that at independent stores - if they survive.

    Morgan, returns are evil. I'm surprised publishers survive with that policy.

    Eric, America did begin with small businesses.

    Thank you, Karen.

    Lisa, we have several cool independents in our state that have gifts and coffee shops, so I hope they survive.

    Karen, the internet is wide open.

    Yvonne, I'm glad you enjoyed the photos. Those are some of my favorite people.

  15. Perhaps we all need to now focus on our independent book stores. We have only a couple in the city of Halifax. We have two or three Chapters though and several Cole books and other stores that are part of the same chain with different names. I like the independent book stores because the sellers read. I'm picky that way. Over 70% of floor space at Chapters is being given over to 'life-style do-dads' yikes.

  16. This is so sad. E-books and online retail certainly have some advantages, but nothing will ever make up for talking to real people who are passionate about real books.

  17. That layoff number is so sad. And scary, considering the economy right now. Thanks for your evaluation of the books scene, brick and mortar sales, and ebooks.

  18. Jan, they do read, and they care about books.

    Matthew, we can still get that at independent stores. I've done enough signings in chains to know many of those employees are not big readers. And as I shared, they are often required to promote certain titles.

  19. I agree with everyone who enjoys browsing bookstores. I can't count how many times I popped in for one book and left with an armful. The downside of purchasing solely online is there's less impulse buying from our target markets.

    We also had a Waldenbooks in town - the only book store in the entire county. After Borders bought it, they closed it, even though it was profitable. When the community waged a write-in campaign, Borders' management told us we just had to get used to driving to Fayetteville, 45 miles away in another county. What they failed to realize was Barnes & Noble was closer and larger - still in Fayetteville but easier to get to.

    So most of the book-buyers in this county purchase from B&N in Fayetteville or online.

  20. The loss of jobs is tragic, but I stopped shopping chain bookstores some time ago. Apart from a few regional differences, every Borders and B&N carries exactly the same bestseller and mid-list releases. I prefer shopping independents where I'm constantly surprised by the gems I run across, not to mention those recommended by the savvy, well-read staff. I hope the downfall of the big box stores means a resurgence in indies, but I won't hold my breath.

    As for ebooks, they're are great for travel, but otherwise I abhor them with every fiber of my being. Mr. VR has accused me of giving my Kindle murderous looks when I thought no one was watching.

  21. What a shame so many people are losing their jobs and so many shops are closing. Our big chain in the UK is in trouble, too.

  22. It is sad about the closing, especially for the ex-employees I suppose. But if the traffic is not there that's the way it goes.
    People complain about WalMart driving the mom&pops out of business, but after all, the consumers do the choosing.

  23. It's so sad to hear this news. The books, the jobs, the spaces - so hard to lose them all.

  24. AnonymousJuly 21, 2011

    And Congrats! on topping the 500 Follower milestone!

  25. It's sad and disappointing news, but it's not surprising either. Stores need to understand what it is that they can provide to customers that internet retailers cannot. It's got to go beyond sales because if they try to compete based on selling product alone, the brick and mortars will lose. Change and innovation in addition to competitive pricing is the way to adapt.

    Tossing It Out

  26. Trish, and I was fortunate to visit that Waldenbooks once before it closed.

    VR, you're right about them all looking the same.

    Stephen, thank you - I just noticed that.

    Lee, you got it.

  27. I have worked for Borders for 13 years, mostly as a manager and I am way too emotional at this point to respond clearly. I am just sad. Stuff happened high above us all at store level that changed the face of the company and the direction it went. But what remained were the wonderfully hardworking, smart, passionate book lovers working in the stores. During 9 of my 13 years, I took care of local and new authors and ordered many, many wonderful books by first time authors. I displayed them instead of returned them. I pushed their autographing events. i took chances where others may not have. Every store is different. But know that this Borders employee did all she could to support the little guy too and not just the big authors we were co-oped to put up.
    Great post Diane. Sorry for the emotion. Many of my friends are losing their jobs and I'm just a big ol' mushball right now.

  28. AnonymousJuly 24, 2011

    I'm going to miss those 40% off coupons my wife got in her email but I never got for some reason, despite having signed up for the mailing list several hundred times....

  29. Very good post, Diane. I, too, feel bad for all of those who are losing their jobs. If I had to guess, I would say that many of them really cared about books, and this result is that much harder to take. Though my first novel was an e-book only for that first year, and I have been buying e-books exclusively of late, I'd hate to think of a world without bookstores.


  30. AnonymousJuly 25, 2011

    I'm very sad for all the people who will be losing their jobs because of this. My thoughts and prayers go out to them.